Iowa Legendary Rye can trace its roots back 90 years to Prohibition and a mother with children to feed during a bleak time in the country.
The company’s history started back in the 1930s when bootleggers asked Lorine and Frank Sextro to use their farm as a distillery during the Great Depression, said Max Poland, master distiller and director of distillery operations at Iowa Legendary Rye in Carroll.
“At first they were reluctant, but after some thought about paying for the farm and food for their kids, they agreed,” Poland said. “Lorine ended up taking more of a liking to it than she thought and created our small-batch baker’s recipe, the true Templeton rye.”
The rye gained traction with distribution to Omaha, Denver, Chicago and all over Iowa.
Even gangster Al Capone allegedly said Templeton rye was his preferred spirit.
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“After the Depression, (the Sextros) shut down their operation before getting caught,” Poland said. “Allegedly, the recipe was passed to another bootlegger and then to our co-founder Rich Eggers. Rich and Lisa Chase started distilling legally in 2014 and passed the recipe and small-batch technique to me. Lisa still owns and runs the business, and I do all the distilling and operations of the distillery.”
What does Iowa Legendary Rye produce?
The distillery sells four different products all containing the same mash bill — 100 percent certified organic rye, water, sugar and yeast. The difference in taste and product comes in the distilling process.
“White Label is right off the still, proofed and bottled at 80 proof,” Poland said. “Black Label is our white rye that is aged in brand-new American white oak barrels and bottled at 80 proof.”
It’s also their most popular rye because, according to Poland, it pairs well with cocktails but is also delicious on the rocks or just straight.
“Red Label is our white rye that is aged in used American white oak barrels and bottled at 80 proof,” Poland said. “Purple Label is our Black Label rye that has been aged for a year, then redistilled and aged for another year and then bottled at 121.2 proof.”
The distillery also has a new vodka product called Have Sextro Vodka, a tribute to Lorine.
Tradition is important at Iowa Legendary Rye.
“We use rye because that is the original recipe Lorine used in 1932,” Poland explained. “We keep everything as original as we can — from the recipe to our small-batch stills like Lorine used. Rye adds a little bit of sweetness to the flavor, and our recipe and custom stills help it stand out above other products on the market.”
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Poland said rye uses the same recipe made in the 1930s. “No enzymes and all natural, 100 percent made right here in Carroll, Iowa, on Main Street,” he said. “We use Brian Irlbeck’s rye, grown in Manning, Iowa. It is 100 percent certified organic rye — the best rye you can find that makes the best rye spirits. We are truly an Iowa-made product; We get all our ingredients locally or from local companies. We are proud to be an all-Iowa product.”
What to find in the tasting room
Iowa Legendary Rye just opened a gift shop and tasting room where visitors can try the products and purchase them.
“We also sell our apple pie and pink lemonade flavors here. We will be offering tours in the very near future. You can check on our Facebook page (Iowa Legendary Rye) or call us for more information on tours,” Poland said.
A family affair
“We really love having the history associated with our distillery,” Poland said. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Lorine and Frank. We are just keeping a lost art alive, and we are so happy they passed it on to Rich and then me so we can keep it going. Heath Schneider, grandson of Lorine and Frank, is still involved in helping promote the business, and Lorine’s daughters and sons still stop by from time to time and share stories from their childhood about her and Frank.”
A treasure hunt for whiskey bottles
After the Sextros shut down the distillery, legend has it that they buried their barrels and equipment in a nearby field so they wouldn’t get caught. “We are still on our treasure hunt for the barrels,” Poland said. “We have found an old still on the old Sextro farm and a lot of old whiskey bottles, but no barrels yet. We had cadaver dogs that work with the FBI and a specially trained team using the latest in below-ground mapping technology searching for our barrels. It is still an active farm, so it is hard to get in to hunt in between freezing and thawing seasons. It is still a work in progress on finding them.”
Where to buy Iowa Legendary Rye
If you don’t want to wait for your trip to Carroll, you can try out Iowa Legendary Rye spirits at a store near you. “Our alcohol is sold at almost every Hy-Vee and a lot of liquor stores and bars in Iowa. If it isn’t available and you want to try it, just ask your store manager to order it in or give us a call and we can help you find it in your area,” said Poland.
What else to do in Carroll
The Carroll area has plenty to offer if you make a day or weekend of visiting the distillery. Poland recommends making a stop at Bordenaro’s Meat Market. “They have the best beef sticks, steaks, burgers and a lot of other specialty items. They have daily lunch specials, and sometimes feature our rye spirits as an ingredient,” Poland said.
Other options include the Piranha Club, a local bar and grill.
For outdoor lovers, Swan Lake State Park offers fishing, camping, disc golfing or a picnic spot to enjoy nature, Poland said.
Sauk Rail Trail runs through Carroll for biking or walking.
Iowa Legendary Rye
Address: 707 N. Main St., Carroll
Distance from downtown Des Moines: 92.7 miles
Hours: Open from 3 to 6 pm Thursday and Friday and 1 to 4 pm Saturday.